Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

by
Appellant Thomas Southon was employed by Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC ("Employer"). In 2016, Southon sustained an injury while on the job and filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits. Employer fired Southon less than a month after he suffered the injury. Southon filed an action alleging Employer terminated him as retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits. Southon's petition further requested a declaratory ruling that 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 was unconstitutional. Employer moved to dismiss the case for lack of jurisdiction, arguing that under section 7 Southon's exclusive, and constitutionally sufficient, remedy was before the Workers' Compensation Commission and not the district court. The district court found 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 was constitutional, and agreed that the Workers' Compensation Commission had exclusive jurisdiction over Southon's claim and sustained Employer's motion to dismiss. Southon appealed, and this matter was retained and made a companion case to another cause concerning the same statutory provision. The issues presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review were: (1) whether 85A O.S.Supp. 2013 section 7 unconstitutionally restricted a plaintiff's right to jury trial; (2) whether section 7 denied Southon his right to due process; (3) whether section 7 wrongfully classifies workers' compensation claimants separately from other wrongful termination victims; and (4) whether a Burk tort was available to such plaintiffs in the district court. The Supreme Court concluded Southon's four assignments of error were without merit and affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Southon v. Oklahoma Tire Recyclers, LLC" on Justia Law

by
Appellants, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2875 (Union), and Robert Green (Green), sought certiorari relief from the Court of Civil Appeals' (COCA) opinion affirming the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City of Norman and reversing an arbitration award in favor of Green and Union. Green, a member of his local union, was discharged from his job with the City of Norman, Oklahoma (City). Green appealed the decision and the matter was ultimately presented to an arbitrator for a determination. The arbitrator determined there was no "just cause" for discipline and he ordered reinstatement of Green's employment. The union filed a petition in district court to enforce the arbitration award. City filed a cross petition asking the district court to vacate the arbitration award. Both parties sought summary relief from the district court. The district court denied relief to Green and granted summary judgment in favor of City. The district court held the arbitrator exceeded his authority under the collective bargaining agreement and vacated the arbitrator's opinion and award. Green and the union filed a Petition in Error; the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment to City but remanded the matter for the arbitrator to resolve the issue of progressive discipline. Green and the union sought certiorari relief from the Oklahoma Supreme Court. After review, the Supreme Court held the arbitrator acted within the scope of his authority under the terms of the CBA when determining whether the City had "just cause" to discipline Green. It vacated the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, reversed the district court and remanded this matter for further proceedings. View "American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees v. City of Norman" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Emilee Mullendore was employed as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) with Mercy Hospital in Ardmore, Oklahoma. While working during her assigned hospital shift, Petitioner entered the fifth floor nutrition room and assembled 8 separate one pound bags of ice for the patients. She then turned to open the door out of the nutrition room, took a step into the doorway and "I felt my right foot slip out to the right and then the top part of my leg and my knee turned in to the left." Petitioner immediately fell onto the floor and was unable to walk on her leg. Petitioner had worked over six hours of her shift without difficulty before her accident. At the time, Petitioner was twenty-one years old. Mullendore was evaluated in the emergency room within a few hours after the accident complaining of "right knee pain - says she just stepped and fell." Petitioner filed a claim to the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Commission seeking the recovery of medical care for the injury and requested the reservation of the issue of whether she was entitled to recover temporary total disability benefits. Petitioner claimed she sustained a compensable injury to her right knee as a result of an unexplained fall that arose out of her performing employment related services for the hospital. Respondent-hospital denied the claim contending the injury was not work-related but was idiopathic in nature, arising out of a condition that was personal to Petitioner. Both parties retained a physician expert who conducted an exam, reviewed medical records and issued a written report. Neither expert testified at the hearing; the ALJ was provided their respective written reports. Petitioner sought review of the Workers' Compensation Commission's Order en banc, which upheld the administrative law judge's Order Denying Compensability finding that Petitioner's injury to her right leg/knee was idiopathic in origin and noncompensable under the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the Commission en banc. After its review, the Oklahoma Supreme Court held Petitioner's knee injury was indeed a "compensable injury" within the meaning of the Oklahoma Administrative Workers' Compensation Act. 85 A O.S. Supp. 2018 section 2 (9)(a). View "Mullendore v. Mercy Hospital Ardmore" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Trina Engles received temporary total disability benefits in 2006, for a December 2, 2005 injury. She had fallen backwards in a chair at work, which caused the injury. On January 15, 2010, Engles received permanent partial disability benefits for the neck injury. She had previously suffered a non-work-related injury in 1998. That injury occurred from an electrocution and fall at her home. She had multiple back and neck surgeries as a result. Ultimately she was awarded benefits from the Multiple Injury Trust Fund based on the most recent Court of Civil Appeals decision. MITF filed a timely petition for certiorari to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, arguing the Court had never before addressed the conclusion and holding of the Court of Civil Appeals. It argued the holding that a PTD benefit claimant against MITF may reopen an underlying case during the pendency of a claim against MITF, settle the reopened claim, and then use the settlement to later obtain a MITF award after another division of the Court of Civil Appeals ruled there was no jurisdiction for claimant's claim of benefits against MITF. MITF also argued the court did not follow the Supreme Court's jurisprudence, arguing it ignored the law-of-the-case doctrine. MITF claims the court did not correctly apply the statute, ignoring the Court's case law that a change of condition for the worse was not a subsequent injury under section 172. MITF contended that Engles was not eligible for benefits as she only has one previous adjudicated injury and her change of condition for the worse just reopened the original injury. Finally, MITF argued the court determined the competence of evidence sua sponte, contradicting Oklahoma case law. The Supreme Court agreed that Engles had one adjudicated injury, and suffered no subsequent injury after her 2005 injury; she could not be a physically impaired person and the appellate court lacked jurisdiction against MITF. "Reopening a lone injury and characterizing the resulting compromise settlement as a second adjudicated injury cannot establish jurisdiction over MITF." The Court vacated the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "Engles v. Multiple Injury Trust Fund" on Justia Law

by
The petitioner-employer sought review of the Workers' Compensation Court of Existing Claims which upheld a trial court's determination that respondent-employee Jennifer Hodge suffered a change of condition for the worse to her left leg/knee when she was injured in a medical facility where she was receiving medical treatment to a previously adjudicated body part. The employer urged there was insufficient evidence to support the trial court's decision because: (1) any injury arose from an intervening negligent act; and (2) there was no medical evidence to support a worsening of condition to employee's left leg/knee. The three-judge panel disagreed with Employer and affirmed the trial court. Employer then filed a Petition for Review and the Court of Civil Appeals vacated the decision of the three-judge panel. Hodge filed a Petition for Certiorari to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Granting review, the Supreme Court found competent evidence to support the decisions from the trial court and the three-judge panel. Accordingly, the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals and affirmed the Workers' Compensation Court. View "City of Tulsa v. Hodge" on Justia Law

by
The question before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in this case centered on whether evidence in the underlying workers compensation proceeding should have been excluded by the administrative law judge, as well as the constitutionality of several provisions of the Administrative Workers Compensation Act (AWCA) that required mandatory use of the Sixth Edition of the American Medical Association's Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment (AMA Guides, Sixth Edition) to evaluate permanent partial disability (PPD). Petitioner Robert Hill was a paramedic working for Respondent American Medical Response (Employer), when he injured his right shoulder while lifting a person of large body habitus. Hill underwent surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. After post-operative physical therapy, Hill was released at maximum medical improvement and given permanent restrictions. Employer admitted the injury and benefits were provided pursuant to the provisions of the AWCA. Employer was apparently unable to accommodate Hill's permanent restrictions, and so Hill was no longer employed with American Medical Response. Per Hill's testimony, he found work with a new employer and made approximately 25% less per year. Hill submitted a report by Dr. Stephen Wilson, who opined that Hill sustained 8% whole person impairment pursuant to the AMA Guides, Sixth Edition, and 31.8% impairment pursuant to the AMA Guides, Fifth Edition. Dr. Wilson did not express an opinion as to which rating more accurately described Hill's PPD. Employer's evaluating physician, Dr. William Gillock, asserted in his own report that Hill sustained 4.2% whole person impairment pursuant to the AMA guides, Sixth Edition. The Supreme Court determined the administrative law judge did not err by admitting the challenged evidence. Furthermore, the Court determined the mandatory use of the AMA Guides, Sixth Edition, for assessing impairment for non-scheduled members did not violate the Constitution. View "Hill v. American Medical Response" on Justia Law

by
Petitioner Octavio Pina was employed as a pipeline installer by American Piping Inspection, Inc. At the time of his injury, he worked at an oilrig site approximately 130 miles away from his home. Petitioner traveled weekly to Employer's drilling site; he would work 6 days then return home on the weekend. Employer provided a daily per diem payment for lodging and meals incurred. Employer used Petitioner's truck to haul work related equipment and materials and paid him $50 per day for the use of his truck. At the time of Petitioner's injury, it was the practice of Employer to pay for the gas necessary to refuel Petitioner's truck each morning before traveling to the rig site. Petitioner was required to stop at the Employer-designated gas station at the time set by the supervisor. Employer also agreed to purchase ice and water each day for the entire crew, but only if they stopped at the designated gas station at the time specified by Employer. Employer had been paying for Petitioner's gasoline for three months prior to his injury. On the morning of September 22, 2014, Petitioner met his supervisor at the designated gas station to get ice, water and gasoline. The supervisor agreed that "Claimant was reporting to work that morning when he made it to the gas station." On his way to the worksite, Petitioner had a collision and sustained serious injuries. Emergency medical care was given and Petitioner was transported via helicopter for medical treatment. Petitioner never arrived at the drilling site that morning. Although Petitioner did not sign the attendance sheet at the rig site that morning, Employer paid him for a full day of work. Petitioner filed a claim for benefits under the Administrative Workers' Compensation Act (AWCA). Employer denied the claim was compensable within the meaning of the AWCA on the following grounds: (1) Petitioner was not performing employment services at the time of injury; and (2) the injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment. The administrative law judge determined Petitioner's injury did not occur in the course and scope of employment within the meaning of the AWCA and denied his claim. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed, finding Petitioner was in the course and scope of his employment as the term was defined in 85A O.S. Supp. 2013 sec 2 (13) because his actions at the time of injury were related to and in furtherance of the business of the employer. View "Pina v. American Piping Inspection" on Justia Law

by
James David Lind, Sr. (Decedent) was an employee of Defendant-appellee Barnes Tag Agency Inc. (BTA). Decedent was hired in 2010, to perform maintenance work on property owned individually by Defendant Jim T. Roy Barnes (Barnes), the sole stockholder of BTA. On February 21, 2010, there was an explosion on the property while Decedent was present, resulting in a fire. Descendent sustained severe injuries that led to his death on February 26, 2010. Plaintiff-appellant, the administrator Lind’s estate filed suit against BTA and the sole stockholder, alleging negligence. The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing they possessed immunity from suit pursuant to the provisions of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act. The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants. The administrator appealed, arguing the trial court erred by determining that Jim T. Roy Barnes, as the individual owner of the property, was immune from suit. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed. The question presented for the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s review in this case was whether the sole shareholder of a corporation, who individually owned the property where an employee of the corporation sustained fatal injuries, was immune from suit for common-law negligence in district court under the provisions of the Oklahoma Workers' Compensation Act. The Supreme Court held in the negative: a corporation and its sole owner and shareholder are separate entities and the immunity of the workers' compensation laws that shields the corporation from tort liability to employees does not extend to the owner of the corporation as a third-party landowner. View "Lind v. Barnes Tag Agency" on Justia Law

by
Plaintiff Stacy Gaasch, as personal representative for the Estate of Troy Gaasch, filed suit against St. Paul File and Marine Insurance Company, alleging the insurance company failed to timely provide reasonable and necessary medical treatment as ordered by the Workers' Compensation Court. Troy required multiple surgeries over several years due to his work-related injury. Troy was hospitalized due to his work-related injury. He allegedly became malnourished with accompanying weight loss and different physicians recommended a nutritional consult. A nurse case manager recommended monthly a nutritional consult. Troy died during his hospitalization approximately six months after the initial recommendation for a nutritional consult. Prior to his work-related injury, Troy underwent a gastric bypass surgery and allegedly suffered from a malabsorption syndrome secondary to this surgery. A disagreement arose between insurer and Troy concerning whether the insurer was required to pay for a nutritional consult. Insurer claimed Troy's nutritional problems were created prior to his work-related injury and his nutritional state in the hospital was not due to the work-related injury. The company moved for summary judgment which was granted. Plaintiff appealed. The Oklahoma Supreme Court held: (1) Plaintiff's district court action alleging breach of contract also included a request for damages resulting from the death of the workers' compensation claimant; (2) the district court action was based upon alleged delay by a workers' compensation insurer in providing medical care as previously awarded by the Worker's Compensation Court; and (3) the district court action against the workers' compensation insurer was precluded by an exclusive remedy provided by the Workers' Compensation Act. “Plaintiff attempts to go around this procedure we classified as a ‘jurisdictional requirement’ . . .by characterizing the claim as a breach of contract and an action for damages resulting from an alleged wrongful death. The clear public policy expressed in the amended version of Art. 23 sec. 7 requires available workers' compensation remedies for any type of wrongful death claim to be pursued in the Workers' Compensation Court when required by the workers' compensation statutes.” View "Gaasch v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co." on Justia Law

by
The constitutionality of section 57 of the Administrative Worker's Compensation Act (AWCA) came before the Oklahoma Supreme Court. Claimant Brandon Gibby injured his right wrist and left knee in 2014 when he fell three to four feet from a pallet jack while in the course and scope of his employment. Employer, Hobby Lobby Stores, provided temporary total disability and medical benefits. However, when Claimant sought permanent partial disability, Employer asserted that the forfeiture provision, section 57 of the (AWCA) prohibited Claimant from receiving any further workers' compensation benefits because he had missed two or more scheduled medical appointments without a valid excuse or notice to his employer. At trial, Claimant attempted to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances for missing three scheduled medical appointments. The administrative law judge found none and denied the request for permanent partial disability despite the fact there was no dispute that Claimant's injury had left him disabled. The Workers' Compensation Commission affirmed. Following a review of the record on appeal, the transcripts of the proceedings below, and the briefs of the parties and amici, the Supreme Court held the forfeiture provision found at section 57 of title 85A violated the adequate remedy provision of Article II, section 6, of the Oklahoma Constitution. The section 57 forfeiture provision was therefore stricken in its entirety. View "Gibby v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc." on Justia Law